Q: Is it OK to treat unpaid experience as professional experience on my résumé?

Q: Is it OK to treat unpaid experience as professional experience on my résumé?

Q:  I have been looking for a permanent job in mostly archives and university libraries for nearly three years. I will spare you details of how discouraging the search has been. I have been volunteering for various organizations for those three years doing a few projects as an unpaid librarian for a couple non-profit organizations. Currently on my résumé I list my volunteer and intern experience in a separate section from my professional experience. Someone suggested I list these experiences with the professional and don’t mention that they were volunteer gigs. This feels dishonest somehow. Is it OK to treat unpaid experience as professional experience on my résumé?


SM: Yes, yes, yes! Just because you weren’t paid for the work you did doesn’t mean you cannot call it professional experience – especially since it is. You are doing internships to get the experience you need to get you the job you want. This is what internships are designed to do… and some do it better than others.

You should put your most relevant experience up front, regardless of whether you got paid for it. This is especially true for people who don’t have that much current, or recent, library experience under their belts. If it makes you feel better (or less dishonest), rename your heading “Library Experience” and put everything else under “Other Experience” or something similar. And, since we’re talking honestly, I can’t take full credit for this advice. As I was graduating from library school (some oh so many years ago), this is how the director of career development told me to arrange my résumé — more functional than chronological.

As you rework your résumé, don’t lie about what you did, or what your title was — call it an internship, call yourself a volunteer — just make sure to include all the important skills, jobs, projects, systems, technology, tools, etc., that you worked on and used. If you were “hired” as an unpaid librarian, then your title was librarian. You don’t have to mention that you weren’t getting paid, although you may want to mention that the job was temporary.

Here’s the thing: potential employers and hiring committees don’t want to spend a lot of time going over your résumé to try to find applicable experience and skills. So don’t make them search. Highlight your experience and skills that correspond to the requirements of the job by putting them up front, where they can be easily found.

If the job calls for a certain number of years of “professional experience,” then your unpaid work probably won’t be considered as part of this requirement. Typically (although this can differ from job to job) this only applies to people who have held professional positions that required an MLS. But that doesn’t mean that the work you’ve done in your various unpaid positions is not “professional” in nature. Best of luck!


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Q: How can I possibly gain some (library) experience while still holding down my current 9-5 job?

Q: How can I possibly gain some (library) experience while still holding down my current 9-5 job?

This answer is provided by our guest author, Rachel Kuhn Stinehelfer.

Q: I have an MLIS that I received about 9 years ago. Prior to that, I had about 10 years of experience working as a page, circulation desk worker, supervisor, etc. After receiving my degree, I worked for a year and a half as a reference and systems librarian at a small academic library. Due to a job transfer on my husband’s part, I ended up having to quit that job, and was unable to find a new one in our new location. So I went back to school, and have been working as a web programmer and database designer for the last 5 years.

I really miss working in the library world, and would like to re-enter it. I now live in an area where there are many community colleges. One of the biggest problems I’m finding, though, is that all the job requirements mention wanting “recent” academic library experience — how can I possibly gain some experience while still holding down my current 9-5 job? I don’t see myself getting looked at twice by hiring committees without it, and frankly, I could really use some experience to get back up to speed on library technologies and procedures. I’d be happy to volunteer somewhere, but academic libraries don’t seem real big on volunteers. Is it possible for someone, post-degree, to get an internship? Any suggestions on how to handle this?

RKS: That does sound like a tough position to be in. There are several ways to look at your situation and many opportunities in front of you.

First, I would call a couple of the local community college libraries and ask to speak to the person in charge of hiring or the department head of the area you are most interested in. Set up an informational interview try to see if you can come in person to talk to them and if that is not an option then ask if you could arrange a phone interview. Prepare as if it is a real interview. Have lots of questions (not too many!) and take a copy of your résumé. Look the part – wear a nice outfit and take the conversation seriously. They will be able to talk to you about the job market, their particular library and the skills that they are expecting from a librarian. Be sure to follow up with a handwritten thank you note. All the impressions you are making could lead to a future opportunity.

Second, you mentioned that your skills need updating and refreshing. Taking a class either in person or online would be a real benefit to you – not only will it make your résumé more current, it will show that you are interested in staying current in the profession. You may even make connections that could lead to a job – you just never know.

Third, to your comment about academic libraries not wanting volunteers. I think that is not always the case. Sometimes it has to do with the school’s overall policy, so it is worth a phone call to the libraries you are interested in.

From your perspective it sounds like you are a bit stalled in making that next step, so I hope one or all of these ideas will help you to reach your goal. And good luck!